CATH AND JOSHUA—ACT 1
JL: There’s a place, inland from the south coast of New South Wales, called Bundanon.
CM: The Wadi Wadi of the Yuin Nation are the traditional custodians. The word Bundanon—
JL: —or Bundanoon or Buntanoon—
CM: —means deep gully or deep valley and comes from BU(LAIA):N:DHAIA(LA) meaning "two things deep" and NOON from the pronoun NYUNG meaning "his". (Michael Organ, University of Wollongong Bundanon website). This is the land of Dharawal speakers. Contemporary Wadi Wadi artists in the tradition of their ancestors, still create artwork here. This is also land that Arthur Boyd painted, and near his old residence, the architect Glenn Murcutt was commissioned to build the retreat called Riversdale. It’s a large building built out of concrete and hardwood, with monastic cells for visitors to sleep in and a large common room to work in.
JL: It’s a bit of a journey to get there. It’s about 45 minutes away from the nearest town, Nowra, down a winding quartzy track, over cattle grids and dry creek bed.
CM: It is situated on a bend in the Shoalhaven river, that, like a shiny reptile, slips and slithers its way down to the sea.
JL: On this site created for contemplation and learning, that has also had its fair share of turbulence, we’ve come together to talk.
CM: Who is we?
JL: We’re a group of academics and thinkers from the School of the Arts, English and Media at the University of Wollongong. We’re writers—
CM: —and painters—
JL: —and digital media theorists—
CM: —and English Lit scholars—
JL: —and art historians—
CM: —and designers—
JL: —and socially engaged practitioners—
CM: —and media artists—
JL: —and drone fliers—
CM: —and walkers—
JL: — and biscuit makers—
CM: —and walkers—
JL: —and needleworkers—
CM: —and thinkers.
JL: Collectively, we call ourselves “MECO”, which stands for Material Ecologies. In this context—
CM: —Material means “objects to study”: be it a tree, a bird, a mountain, weather, the internet, cities, people.
JL: Ecologies means “connections between”: an ecology is a system of linked elements.
CM: It’s winter 2016.
JL: We sleep in small monastic rooms, with mattresses set upon concrete slabs and windows that open up to bring the outside in. In the middle of the night, when we’re searching for a spare blanket in the cupboard, we hear the wombats scratching at the concrete base of Murcutt’s building.
CM: Every morning we gather in the large room, an empty space to discuss art, climate change, the world around us. Arthur Boyd’s painting Hanging Rock and Bathers (1985) hangs at one end. There is a piano, and tucked away in one corner, cushions, chairs and tables. A massive sliding glass door takes up one side of the room, the side that faces the river. It’s possible to peel back the wall entirely, to see the whole view. We’re inside and outside. It is the river and sky that fills this place, the bird chatter, kangaroo gazes, and wombat trails.
On the last morning we discuss our proposed new collective project. We’ve been enveloped in fog. No river is visible, nor any bird or animal. It’s like being in a cloud. Dreamlike. Contemplative. We want to respond to the call, sent out by writers and climate change activists, to generate new ways of being in and imagining our world.
JL: We want to write about our changing and disappearing planet.
We want to do something as artists and citizens.
To do something about climate change.
To do something through creative practice.
But we’re not sure how to approach this overwhelming task.
Isabelle Stengers writes “amongst us there are those who know they ought to “do something” but are paralyzed by the disproportionate gap between what they are capable of and what is needed” (2015, 22-23).
So we talk.
CM: We talk about sea-level rises and political systems—
JL: —about weather patterns and styrofoam cups—
CM: —the material and the immaterial—
JL: —the everyday and the sacred. Or the scared.
CM: —We debate the world we live in, shoving about each other’s thoughts, like kids in a rough and tumble game. And as we talk the river and land emerge from the clouds.
JL: A book has been passed around the table: Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (2015). We read bits out loud, we read privately, we peer over each other’s shoulders.
CM: Scranton says: “In order for us to adapt to this strange new world, we’re going to need more than scientific reports and military policy. We’re going to need new ideas. We’re going to need new myths and new stories, a new conceptual understanding of reality” (19).
JL: We sit silently, together and alone, and think on this and on what we’ve discussed.
CM: Scratch down notes on bits of paper.
JL: Our thoughts drift. One by one, we turn to face the river.
CM: Gaze up at white clouds and seabirds riding air currents.
JL: Little wonder, then, that we start to talk about atmospheres. And scale. And wonder.
CM: Across the table, we throw a large sheet of butcher’s paper. At the top of the sheet we write the word ‘atmospheres’. Underneath, we brainstorm.
JL and CM: (Overlapping.)
Atmosphere as cycles
Atmosphere as affect and sensing
Atmosphere as materiality and immateriality
Atmosphere as pressure
Atmosphere as hope
Atmosphere as urgency
Atmosphere as experience
Atmosphere as juju
as the earth’s blanket
CM: We pause, and catch our breath.
JL: There are atmospheres on the list we don’t agree with or think are silly or are confused by.
What’s VR got to do with it? Virtual Reality?
CM: Voluntary Redundancies?
JL: But other atmospheres produce multiple imaginings, shared conversations.
CM: We get distracted by the word ‘portals’—
JL: —start talking about science fiction and doorways and art production. This process produced sparks that either ignited further connections, or died away.
CM: Our multiple gazing shifted the singular academic process of paper-writing into a more chaotic collective practice.
JL: We were beginning to discover a new way of writing. A process through which individual contributions would be bound together to make one creative offering.
CM: Hang on! We have to be careful not to idealise this process too much—there’s a danger in that.
JL: There were people there that day who felt their ideas were rejected, and who felt bruised by the process.
CM: Ideas bumped up against each other and disagreements flared up—on that day and in the days to come.
JL: There were also people there that day who were not interested in continuing.
CM: Collective process is a compilation of comings and goings, of lift-offs and let-downs.
JL: Of exchanges both delicate and nuanced—
CM: —of stumbles and mishaps, of words spoken—
JL: —not always good—
CM: —not always right.
JL: But collaboration is also about a spark that lights a collective fire—when ideas become bigger than one person’s momentary thought, when perceptions move and change through several bodies. We were beginning to think about a new way of writing, but so far we were only thinking together. We knew we were capable of writing, but we did not yet know what was needed. Not exactly. We did know there had been an unsettling—
CM: —in a good way—
JL: —of both practice and self.
CM: After Riversdale we set up a process where we would write together, meet together, talk together. This happened in small university meeting rooms and in the library—
JL: —in cafes and on trains—
CM: —under trees. In practical terms we had decided one clear thing—that we wanted to write a multi-authored, multi-modal book that used artistic practice to respond to our shared concern.
JL: The book would be collaborative and would respond to the question—what can collaborative practice ‘do’ to help us engage with climate change?
CM: We had been talking together for 5 days and shaping what we wanted to write about and we now articulated a new question: Is there a relationship between the way we were beginning to write, and what we wanted to write about? How might we alter our thoughts about our artistic practice?
JL: Maria Puig de la Bellacasa says that "Caring is relationally into the doings of thinking and knowing. It articulates a notion of thinking-with that resists the individualisation of thinking," (2012, 199).
CM: But Henri Bergson says that “it’s not enough to shout ‘Vive the multiple’: the multiple has to be done.,” (op. cit. 2012, 199).
CATH AND JOSHUA—ACT 3
GOOGLE DOCS AND MECO ROOM AND OTHER PLACES
CM: Where are we now?
JL: We’re in several places.
CM: We’ve found another room in the university building: an old office that was forgotten about when a colleague went on to better things. This room is light and the light changes the atmosphere completely. We call this our MECO room.
JL: We’re also in a Googledoc: a white screen, not unlike the fog at Bundanon, that is slowly, and then rapidly, and then slowly again, being filled with words.
CM: We put a sign on the door of our MECO room with our name and pin up a poster on each side of the door.
JL: We bring in chairs and place them around the room.
CM: On three white walls we pin up the pages of our atmospheres manuscript. We sit on the chairs and begin a process of reading together, and then discussing each atmosphere.
JL: People come in and out of the room, spend all their time there or just a little.
CM: We fall a little in love with this process of reading and talking.
JL; And in our euphoria we decide that it is fine for people to come and go. For effort to change depending on circumstances, for roles to change, as long as there is always enough of a core group to do the work.
CM: We also decide to write over and across each other, and in this way blur boundaries and blend voices. At the time we don’t call it anything in particular, but now we call it, "cross-over writing". However, we do make up some principles. Anyone can write over someone else. There is no need to notify or tell anyone about changes made. If you have written something and come back and don’t like the changes, you can change it back.
JL: We’re coming up with a new practice—a new method—for ourselves, which involves a letting go of old singular methods, and moving on to allow plural voices to be heard.
CM: This method involves generosity and care.
JL: It involves a humility in approach.
CM: New people come into the project now and challenge all we have done. This is good and robust. It doesn’t ruffle any feathers. Everyone is still in rapture about our process.
JL: We write about the way birds—
CM: —or fish (do you always have to bring in birds?)—
JL: —the way birds flock, moving seamlessly together. Or sometimes don’t move smoothly together. There’s still room for dissent or further discussion.
CM: —We want this cross-over practice of writing and thinking to give attention to new ways of thinking, of being. Our ‘atmospheres’ book we hope to be an invitation to practice differently.
JL: The texts are speculative, poetic, and provocative, written, photographic and drawn, and we will aim for them to reflect on new relationships with other species and the planet.
CM: They are composed individually and collectively.
JL: Alongside our atmospheres, we each also write a solo chapter.
CM: These individual chapters are like turning points in a story.
JL: We paste up pink pieces of paper on the wall with the name of the writer and the main idea of a particular chapter and come up with an ordering for the atmospheres.
CM: This creates atmosphere sequences. Above each atmosphere we paste up a word that captures the thematic flow of a sequence. It is a process similar to story sequencing for a screenplay or novel.
JL: We sit and reorder the atmospheres again and again.
The pages flutter on the walls.
CM: When one atmosphere is complete we print it on green paper. Gradually the wall fills up with scribbles and reworkings on the white paper, that are then covered over with a clean crisp green. This is an ‘embodied’ writing practice because we sit and do this together.
JL: These atmospheres are musings and deeper thoughts, lightweight and heavy-weight thrown together to dwell in the deep past and the troubled present in order to imagine future ways of not only being but also of becoming.
CM: We realise this is a fluid call and response process. What we write does not finish with the writer, what we tell does not finish with the speaker, but it moves on to the reader, the listener, who then responds, rework, retells.
JL: The words move together like birds—or fish—or synapses—or atoms.
We discover that collaborative writing allows for planetary thinkings, generosity and care.
We watch the paper flutter against the walls. A breeze is coming in through the open window.
Outside the room, we watch students and colleagues pass each other under the ghost gums.
We’re also in Country.
CM: Place is important. As we write with and over each other, we develop an understanding of where we are and who we are in relation to each other. One of our colleagues is a Yuin man and shares with us his relationship with Country. He holds up his open hand, the five fingers spread out. It’s the place, but it’s more than the place.
JL: It’s the culture–
CM: —the practices that emerge out of place. It’s the kinship—
JL: —the calls and the responses we build between people in place. It’s the journey—
CM: —the stories we tell and the experiences we share about how we got here, and what we’re doing right now.
JL: —And it’s the connection–all five together.
CM: Our place gives us ‘ways of being’; ways of practice. Some of our practices we articulated before we began, others evolved as we wrote, others are still growing and changing. But here are some of our practices:
JL: 1. Care and generosity and sensitivity to the ideas and needs of others, which includes allowing dissent and discussion, but knowing there is a limit to this.
CM: 2. Allowing writers to come and go as time allowed as long as there was a core there to carry on, so a flexibility in approach. Allowing new people into the process at a later date, and others to fall away.
JL: 3. Each writer taking responsibility for a role somewhere, sometime; each writer taking responsibility to write beginnings, or first drafts or cross-over drafts or to jointly write.
CM: 4. A commitment to sitting together and reading aloud each of the atmospheres, and to then discuss and critique, and in this way allow space for ideas to float and shift and evolve.
JL: 5. Eating and drinking together as part of the process. Acknowledging that other communal times are a necessary part of finding the right way for the process to fall into place.
CM: 6. A letting go of authorship as a solo process, but still allowing individuality. For our writers, in the ‘100 atmospheres’, there was no ownership of a sentence. But just as sentences and words were shifted and changed and erased, so words and sentences were returned. Also, we made room for the solo within the collective through longer individual works.
JL: 7. A commitment to create a system of non-systems. A process that allows for fragmentation, breakdowns, altered patterns. A process that allows for systems to sit alongside non systems.
CM: 8. A commitment to slow time. Slow time involving a lack of early deadlines, not making deadlines redundant, but allowing time for processes to evolve.
JL: 9. An acknowledgement that place is important–acknowledging the place where you are working, writing and what it gives you. But also choosing a place that is right for the work.
CM: 10. An understanding that unsettling is necessary for the process. Unsettling of views, of processes, of practices.
JL: These are not necessarily principles for other collaborations that may (or may not) use cross-over writing. They instead offer ways to reflect.
CM: Each collaboration (cross-over writing or not) will be different because those involved are different, because subject and place are different. Each collaboration, then, is a new start, and a new becoming.
JL: The collaborative process allows for connections to be made that might not have been made if working solo.
CM: It allows us to think about how to acknowledge voice, to think about multiple voices, to develop multiple perspectives, to acknowledge peripheral perspectives—
JL: —allows us to acknowledge place, to think about ourselves in place.
CM: And through this process we understand ourselves to be involved in a practice that is fluid and part of a changing environment.
JL: Through this process we understand that what we do and how we practice has meaning in a changing environment.
CATH AND JOSHUA—ACT 2
JL: Another place.
CM: It’s called Room 147. Sounds like a dystopian novel. Room 147 is a dark glass box in Building 25 at the University of Wollongong. The room is situated at the intersection of two corridors and a stairway. Feng shui gurus would be appalled.
JL: It’s a typical university meeting room in a typical 1960s university building. The building is sinking, they say. The fluoro lights make it seem like we’re already underwater. There’s a window in the corner that can only be opened two inches. There’s a reek in the room of the too-wet too-dry sandwiches from yesterday’s exec meeting. Words like ‘rationalisation’ and ‘change management’ linger.
CM: We’re sitting round a table, trying to keep the Riversdale momentum going. We’re an altered group. Some people have decided not to continue with the project; others, curious, have joined. We want to write collaboratively, we want to work together in an authentic way.
JL: But some of us have just returned from Career Development interviews and have been probed about ‘appropriate outputs’. Others feel insecure about what they can contribute to the academy, that they’re here under false pretences. Still others are reeling from a conversation in the corridor with a highly productive, highly successful colleague: she seems to churn out another article every other week. Is it possible to write a multi-authored, multi-modal book in an environment that values individual success?
One solution, we figure, might be to work together to produce a book with a unified voice: one that is recognised by the university, by the ARC, by ERA. We call this “a proper book”. We decide to write a "proper" introduction.
CM: We splinter into small writing groups.
JL: Each group is given a heading and must jointly write beneath it a definition.
CM: The headings are various—'‘wonder', "scale", “rational Modernity”. We intend to slot them together and—hey presto!—"proper" introduction done.
JL: Here is some of what we wrote:
CM: The Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy has recently recommended naming a new geological era on the basis of the mid 20th century spike in radionuclides in sediments globally as a result of atomic testing, / as well as other material signals in recent strata including plastic, aluminium and concrete particles, changes to carbon and nitrogen isotope patterns, fly-ash particles, and an array of fossilizable biological remains.
JL: (Overlapping from slash.) The atmosphere is biophysical enabler (elemental) as part of the Earth System (Steffen & Gaffney 2017) in the interchange of biosphere and geosphere (technically, in scientific epistemology, part of the geosphere). This gaseous chamber is mostly composed of nitrogen (about 78%), oxygen (about 21%), argon (about 0.9%) / with carbon dioxide and other gases in trace amounts.
CM: (Overlapping.) Each atmosphere potentiates a range of scales, their spectrum a function of the affordances of the given atmosphere’s frame. Most scales are fragile, particularly in the age of the Anthropocene, which is both too complex and too homogeneous, where focus on the contrasting magnitudes of scales and times is sharpened. / We think that differences between atmospheres manifest themselves in the way they amplify the intensity of certain scales at the expense of others.
JL: (Overlapping.) All possible scales are a priori material because they create the settings for agency.
CM and JL: We’re dead in the water.
CM: It’s not that these words don’t say what we want to say, it not that we don’t want to include the facts. It’s the way we are saying it. The voice seems false. It’s one voice, speaking for none of us.
JL: The stench of academic failure lingers with the smell of the sandwiches. We pack away our bits of paper for our hard copy “proper” introduction, now labelled "dead in the water". Someone has created a Googledoc. The soft copy of "dead in the water" is filed next to another document that contains our list of atmospheres. We go back to our marking, our emails, our own proper research.
CM: A glimmer, another spark, comes from a surprising place. One of the group isn’t in the room that day. She’s seen the flurry of emails about the introduction but her mind has been on other things. She wanders into the Googledoc to see where we are up to. The cursor wavers over the two documents in the folder: the dead-in-the-water intro and the Bundanon lists. She clicks:
JL: — Atmosphere as cycles, Atmosphere as metaphor, Atmosphere as adaptation, Atmosphere as juju—
CM: She begins typing into “Atmosphere as Juju”. The casting of a spell. An utterance is cast forward by a speaker, and the world is changed by words. Juju marks both spells and objects. Spells are cast onto the objects; the objects embody the spells. The spells and objects are one; together, they enact and emanate an atmosphere.
JL: Later she bumps into another of the group on campus. “It’s a strange way to write an introduction,” she says, “but I like it.” One by one, we’re drawn into the list document. We join our words to our colleague’s writing.
CM: "Atmosphere as Voice”.
The carolling of magpies reminds us of our connections, even in this glass room, to the winter morning outside, cold, dry, sunny, in this place, this continent. We are embedded, even if we mostly don’t notice it. The nonhuman voices reach us (carolling magpie, murmuring ocean, sounds of a small creek running, soughing breeze in the casuarinas, silent stone …), it’s just that we have stopped our ears with too much of ourselves, our own cacophony.
JL: "Atmospheric Pressures”.
Dynamics come from difference. Wind is moving air generated by pressure differential in the troposphere. Meteorologists plot these differentials as lines on weather maps as geographers draw contour lines on geographic maps. High pressure in the atmosphere usually brings sunshine; low pressure may bring rain. A diorama of weather, like a snowglobe bubble. Everything in these systems is held together by gravity. Is this true? Forces both hold and tear apart.
Several people write into “Atmosphere as comfort”, writing underneath each other, sometimes writing over each other:
Doesn’t the atmosphere keep us safe? Without it, we’re faced with the biting cold of the universe, the suffocation of open space.
CM: The sleeping figure stirs, unsettled. The figure’s foot is poking out of the covers, the toes exposed to the iciness of the night. A half-conscious rearrangement of blankets. The foot retreats; the head settles under the covers, only the nose poking out so the body can breathe.
JL: My daughter says that without the trees the planet will lose all its gravity and we will float away.
The body dreams—
CM— and wonders. A poet whispers to the dreamer—
JL: —wandering in the darkness—
CM: "You cannot stand on sky, but you can be in it as you can in water or in sleep…this will do, this walking with only one’s head in the clouds” (Tredinnick 2007, 137).
JL: The facts are there, the research is included, but we tell these in different ways. We also add our own comments, anecdotes, stories. Our colleague’s "accident", her "mistake", leads to different structures: where the stories are collated, not incorporated. Not one, authoritative voice, but a collection of multiple voices. A chorus of many voices.
CM: The accident, the mistake, in Room 147 led to a different kind of unsettling—
JL: —in a good way—
CM: —of both practice and self.
Collaboration always contains misunderstandings, misheard decisions, or forgotten instructions. Collaboration allows for fragmentation: in fact, it’s an essential part of the process. Breakdowns happen when people misunderstand or disagree with each other. But these breakdowns are not necessarily negative. They lead to altered patterns, new ways of thinking—
JL: —'I hadn’t thought of that”, or—
CM: —"If I follow your line of flight, then…”
JL: New systems emerge out of the tangle, new connections are made.
In the list document, there isn’t one voice. Under a heading a new conversation starts. Someone’s passion for Caribbean hurricanes sits next to someone else’s fear of drones. New connections are made. New systems.
CM: Thinking beyond systems.
JL: The process of writing the book, then, reflects more than just a need to do something about climate change. It also makes us think about the systems we already inhabit and the ways they might hinder our ability to "do" something. Stephen Muecke says: “the contemporary humanities are responding to the task of changing the planetary mind” but to do so, we need to develop “a new humility...perhaps with different styles of rationality”(Muecke 2016, 243)
CM : We needed to let go of systems. Or, we needed to think beyond systems to create a system for non-systems. We needed to allow for fragmentation, breakdowns, altered patterns.
JL: We close the door on 147. As we step out of the sinking building, we ask: where to now? What is our book going to look like now? And how are we going to write it?
Mixed Doubles: Collaborative Writing, Peripheral Strategies and some Friendly Serve-Volley
David Carlin, Peta Murray, Cath McKinnon and Joshua Lobb
Welcome, dear reader.
Please don't be put off by the blocky density of this opening text: the solidity is only temporary.
This exposition, the ghost of a conference panel-event, co-mingles accounts of two collaborative writing projects: the critical/creative book 100 Atmospheres; Studies in Scale and Wonder (Open Humanities Press, 2018), and the ongoing speculative/creative research endeavour How To Dress For Old Age. Hence this is a collaboratively written account (by four people in two pairs: mixed doubles) of a collaboratively devised research-performance (by the same four people) reporting on two separate collaborative projects, one of which (100 Atmospheres) involves 13 co-authors in total. Phew.
100 Atmospheres responds to a call in the arts and humanities, articulated by Stephen Muecke, to produce research that “chang[es] the planetary mind” (2016, 243). Roy Scranton argues that in order to engage with climate change, “we’re going to need new ideas…we need a new humanism—a newly philosophical humanism, undergirded by renewed attention to the humanities.” (2016, 19). However, as Isabelle Stengers notes, the problem for scholars and practitioners is that “amongst us there are those who know they ought to “do something” but are paralyzed by the disproportionate gap between what they are capable of and what is needed” (2015, 22-23). This paralysis is particularly urgent in the Creative Arts where practitioners and researchers are, as Robert McFarlane puts it, “experiencing drastic new pressures and being tasked with daunting new responsibilities. How might [creative practitioners] possibly account for our authorship of global-scale environmental change across millennia – let alone shape the nature of that change?” (2016, 2). Given this context, the research questions for the project are: how can the arts, and in particular creative practice, allow for our culture to respond to the climate change crisis? What ‘new ideas’ can the arts produce, and what new methodologies are needed? In a climate warming world, where much is changing, do writers and artists need to change their practice?
How to Dress for Old Age is a project of artistic activism through collaborative creative writing, seeking to intervene in narratives around age and ageing. Ageing is a biological reality of life but the lived experience of ageing can be radically affected not only by legal and political structures but by attitudes, myths and prejudices, or in other words, the stories people are given to inhabit. Ashton Applewhite (2016) exhorts us to find new ways to question a “mainstream narrative” that invites us to equate ageing with decline, and instead to pledge to fight the ageism, both internalised and in western culture at large, that has rendered growing old somehow shameful. Meanwhile Mary Cappello (2017) calls for new forms of colloquy that “move with others and across affiliations in the collective formation of ideas.” How to Dress, configured as a book of essays, unites these invitations in quest of new formal possibilities for a collaborative nonfiction with an activist intent that will contribute to and reflect upon current conversations around the “crisis” of a rapidly ageing population.
The conference performance took place in a scheduled panel slot December 2018, at Curtin University in Perth, in a small, plain classroom under fluorescent lights before an audience of writers and scholars. This, the 23rd Annual Conference of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, was dedicated to exploring the notion of Peripheral Visions, and our contribution was sparked by a Call for Papers that began: “Every creative expression shares a vision. Whether writers are looking from, looking towards, looking askance, looking away, or looking over, writing beckons us to the periphery and asks, ‘Where to now?’”
This invitation to what others have termed “prepositional-thinking” (Cappello 2013, Rendle-Short 2014) piqued our collective interest, while posing rich logistical challenges. How could a quartet of writers (or more accurately, two pairs) residing in different states of Australia, bring their peripheral visions into interplay in a third? And what would be the result? Would we, in tackling what the editors of the resultant Special Issue 57 came to frame as “unconventional wisdom, unsettled perspectives, lapsed borders” deliver us into a new space “where identity can be structured through the connected drives of opposition and recognition (the peri-feral, perhaps?) and where new versions of self can be brought into voice" (Hunn et al 2019,1).
Would words collide in such a way that “various worlds, ideas, fictions and verities would emerge, compete, coalesce, fragment and challenge”? And how might this reveal more of “writing’s potential to interrupt, corrupt and disrupt, as well as to rouse, revivify and heal…"? (Hunn et al 2019, 2).
In an era shaped by critical ecological transformation 100 Atmospheres - speculative, poetic, provocative - pays attention to future ways of being and becoming. In their parts of the performance, Cath and Joshua reflect on a collaborative process that used writing over and into fluid boundaries, multiple entries and exits, and other peripheral strategies, to enliven the book’s approach to living in the Anthropocene.
In thinking about "how to dress for old age", Peta and David re-construct their collaborative process as a live and unfolding methodology (including costume changes). Their report shows traces of how, in improvising with writing methods that involve alternating responses, redirections, and unanticipated shifts in focus / tempo, they have been drawn to sport and theatre metaphors to negotiate evolving rules of engagement and exchange.
This mixed doubles exposition, then and now, performs the periphery through the delivery methods with which it is enacted as well as within the content communicated as we set out to disturb and to disrupt the conventions of conference practice. Throughout, as the two pairs of artist/researchers engage in a back-and-forth play about project methods, various research questions are addressed. What does collaboration offer writers and writing processes? How is vision refracted through a multiplicity of gazes? How does the peripheral make itself felt? Instead of results we offer instances, fragments, rehearsals, reprises, and other fancy footwork, as we invite visitors to "scramble into the imaginary spaces between the accumulation of lives they are presented with, gathering up stories and selves as they go" (Gale et al., 2014, 49).
And with that, let the games begin.
POST MATCH REVIEW and LIST OF REFERENCES
WE WILL NOW TAKE QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE:
CATH AND JOSHUA TURN THEIR STRING OF PHOTOS SIDEWAYS TO FORM A ‘NET’ FOR PETA AND DAVID’S SECOND GAME. PETA AND DAVID ADD FURTHER RIDICULOUS ITEMS OF CLOTHING TO THEIR ATTIRE. THEY STAND AND FACE EACH OTHER, ‘SCRIPTS’ IN HAND.
JOSHUA AND CATH SET UP THE TIMER. THEN THEY HOLD THE ‘NET,’ MADE OUT OF A STRING OF PEGGED PHOTOGRAPHS, FOR PETA AND DAVID’S FIRST GAME.
PETA AND DAVID STAND UP WITH THEIR BOOKLETS AND SERVE BACK AND FORTH SOME EXTRACTS FROM THEIR EMAIL EXCHANGE FOR THE HOW TO DRESS FOR OLD AGE PROJECT.
PETA AND DAVID CLOSE THEIR BOOKLETS AND STEP BACK ‘OFF THE COURT.’
CATH AND JOSHUA TRANSFER THE ‘NET’ TO PETA AND DAVID TO DISPLAY ITS STRING OF PHOTOS, WHICH NOW BECOME RELEVANT IMAGES FOR CATH AND JOSHUA.
THE EXCHANGE COMPLETED, PETA AND DAVID RESUME THEIR POSITIONS AT THE SIDE, HOLDING UP THE THIRD STRING OF PHOTOS FOR CATH AND JOSH.
DAVID AND PETA - GAME 1
FRAGMENTS FROM THE EXCHANGE OF EMAILS
1. On starting
PETA: So you said: speaking of which, I woke up the other day excited about How to Dress… I’ve had a few sketchy thoughts about it. Are you interested in having another conversation about it before I go away?
2. On technicalities
DAVID: You said: I just put this week's piece of writing into the spreadsheet. Not sure if I entered it in the right box? etc etc. Thought I’d email it to you as well just to alert you to its existence.
PETA: And then you said: I’ve just popped mine in a Google doc - I decided to make a separate doc for each of us because I didn’t want to be able to see yours before I wrote mine in. :-)
DAVID: And you said: did I misunderstand? No sign of your piece.
PETA: You said: well I do it [send photos] in a weird and eccentric way, because Apple Photos flummoxes me - so what I do is choose the photos in Photos, then I email them to myself because this allow me to choose how big a file size to have them. Then I just open them out of the email and drag them straight onto the Word doc in the spot that I want them.
DAVID: You said: Okay. Found it. And you also said: I have a typographical question too…. about the em-dash (I think it’s called) and how I make them with my keyboard?
3. On doubt
PETA: …First of all, thank you for your generous words in response to my latest extrusion! I swear to God sometimes writing is just the most hellish business, I find. Do you? There was so much that I had thought I had wanted to ‘essay’ in and via this one, and then not only did I struggle with putting words to uniforms and costumes [the topic of our essaylets this week] but I overlooked vestments entirely, even though this idea, indeed this word-thought, remains tantalising. Anyway. I felt I had to send you something yesterday and I did, with all possible attendant shame, and then of course I am dumbfounded when you come back to me with this enthusiasm, and so I go back to the text and try to revisit it through your eyes…
DAVID: …But I also feel lacking in terms of my contributions! I fear that my own writing is a bit shallow, glib and formulaic, sometimes - maybe what you have at stake is closer to the surface?
PETA: … I find my musings lightweight, compared to yours…
DAVID: …I think this is always something that we have to cope with in this type of thing. N and I also found it an anxiety [on our other book project] - we would both think (sobbing): maybe it would be better if you just wrote the whole thing! I feel that your contributions are gutsy and direct - mine are maybe more self protective. And I am conscious of my lucky (gendered) position. But!! I think that all we can do is try to enjoy it and play and see where we take things and try not to compare with each other or anyone else. And also-to keep it in the spirit both of play and of ‘gathering data’ - unearthing ideas and feelings and scenes and embarrassments, as well as playing with forms. Just seeing what emerges. I love your anecdotes and recollections - so sharp and vivid. I love the surprise of where you will take me! And also, very importantly, to ‘dash them off’, as much as we can. My approach is to try and daydream idly about our prompt in the back of my mind for a few days, and then sit down for a two hour burst of Pomodoros (hyper link here, given its a tool not all many know?) and see what happens…
PETA: …It’s interesting, all this, isn’t it? The overlaps, the seams and the threads. I was so stuck this week, not just time poor, but also just unable to get anywhere with the writing. My voice felt forced, disingenuous, I knew that I was holding something at bay. I loathe what I put in our Google Drive folder and would like the chance to attempt the entire task again, some other time. It is a very good question you've posed, and I can tell that it can take me somewhere; it’s just that I can't get to the nub of it. I haven't worked out how to approach it…
DAVID: …You will have to believe me that I feel the same, or a similar, sense of distrust, or at least incomprehension, at your response to my piece. I literally cannot quite believe that you read it like that. But it is so great to have such a reader! Your piece is anything but heavy, leaden and evasive, trust me…
4. On the pleasure of reading
DAVID: …Once again I LOVED your essay and will only have time to briefly explain why now. It occurred to me at one point in your description of your mother that it was like a crazily expanded BIG PRINT playscript description for her entrance onstage. Maybe because you mentioned theatre. It occurred to me even more so that your mother appears to be the diametrical opposite of my mother and indeed your parents the diametrical opposite of (the effect of) my parents.…
PETA: …Hi there back, and thanks for your fizzy and bubbling piece, too. I’m finding all this just fascinating. Interesting reversal for me in this one in that I am the oldest sibling but I have always looked to my youngest sister as the style icon in the family…
DAVID: …I feel like you are really taking these essays to another level, and for the first time I had a flash-image of a possible performance form incorporating the reading of some of them. I can suddenly see it. This one is so funny and sad and moving, and I so identify with the ‘uniform of depression’: dressed heavy in uncaring. The sentences and rhythm are exquisite, frequently. The serge, the blazers, the pinned medals, even the humble lanyard of belonging!...
PETA: …Thanks for another lovely piece; always so perceptive, such a keen eye. Self curation and the creative intervention in everyday life… I couldn’t agree more with your take on what it means to be “well-dressed” and indeed I think what you have articulated here is exactly why I feel more and more focused on the importance of learning now how to dress for old age. There you are packing up your mother’s world. So poignant. And in some ways what she will be able to bring of her that is truly her, and can continue to be her, is in the contents of her wardrobe. Maybe this is why I love things as glimpsed in that doco, Fabulous Fashionistas that we saw a month or so ago - older people still making some kind of assertion of who they think they are, even in shrinking worlds. (Make sure you leave her plenty of choice!)…
5. On the topic at hand: how to dress for old age
PETA: …I have always envied men their suits. Just the fact of having that kind of a uniform that can be adopted and adapted from day to day, no questions asked. I think in his dourest days my Dad had two, maybe three of them, and that was pretty much the entire contents of his wardrobe….
DAVID …the tin tacks [in your essay] gripped me from the start, and then the revelation of that extraordinary, shattering thought: This body is not mine… In that proposition, This body is not mine, I love that you are playing with, or allowing the play of, at least two meanings - that your body might belong to someone else; and that your own body might be elsewhere (and you yourself disown this one). And that all of these questions of dressing up bring up other questions of bodies ‘underneath', and power and control/agency, and fantasies and desires….
PETA: …I have little or no interest in fashion, per se. Fashion strikes me as an indulgence and/or a commodity. (Although at the same time I see certain couturiers and designers - I’m thinking for instance of Vivienne Westwood, Gaultier, McQueen, etc - as extraordinary contemporary artists.) Style, on the other hand…. I have a deep interest in style. Style for me, comes out of a person and their innate sense of self; it is there, waiting to be drawn out. Fashion is something that is imposed, or otherwise offered to one - it is something additional, something one puts on. It is outside of the self, an affectation…
The idea of a “look”—by the way, Madison Moore (2013) devotes a whole chapter to "How To Work a Look." It’s fascinating. As is the idea of a signature look, don’t you think? But then I think about those great old dames in that Fabulous Fashionistas doco, and remember how they worked on their ensembles, taking time to put their looks together, hunting down the right piece to finish off an outfit. And this leads me to a certain myth I hold, perhaps, that true style is somehow supposed to be effortless. It’s not to be worked at. It’s an existent kind of knowing, or should be. So. I don’t know what I think. Maybe style takes a lot of work but must look effortless? And if so, who has the time? Honestly? Maybe we should all just dress as our favourite super-alter-egos and be done with it?
DAVID: It occurs to me that we both were talking this week in different ways about stratagems to cover nakedness. Perhaps that is what a lot of it is about.
GRAB A CUP OF TEA OR COFFEE. STRETCH YOUR LEGS.
THEN SETTLE IN FOR THE SECOND HALF
(THIS DIDN'T HAPPEN IN THE LIVE PERFORMANCE)
AS BEFORE….CATH AND JOSHUA TURN THEIR STRING OF PHOTOS SIDEWAYS TO FORM A ‘NET’ FOR PETA AND DAVID’S THIRD AND FINAL GAME. PETA AND DAVID ADD FURTHER RIDICULOUS ITEMS OF CLOTHING TO THEIR ATTIRE. THEY STAND AND FACE EACH OTHER, ‘SCRIPTS’ IN HAND.
PETA AND DAVID - GAME 2
FRAGMENTS FROM THE EXCHANGE OF ESSAYS
PETA:Imagine if we all “sashed up” – if we sashayed forth each day, wearing a satin sash - like Miss Australia, or Miss World, or Best Terrier in Show - but instead telegraphing something of our mood or our disposition, or our current preoccupation? Would life be different if you were able to walk into work wearing a sash that proclaimed: Depressive. Hungover. Divorced. Loser. Fucked. I’m thinking now about how you got me watching that mini-series, The Crown. I still haven’t finished, by the way, but I dip in and out of it occasionally when I am alone at home with an evening to myself. And I am thinking about the sashes that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip get to pop on for state banquets and other ceremonial occasions. And wouldn’t it be great, say, if being at work all day in one’s civvies (civilian clothes) and then having to go out somewhere special for dinner or a show could be accomplished by just slipping a super-smart sash over a shoulder, and calling it dressing “up”?
DAVID:From time to time, amidst the scenes of unstudied carelessness, I do love to dress up. In fact, in dressing, there is always a scale, isn’t there, from dressing up at one end, as if one is putting on a costume to step onstage into one or other ‘live performance’, such as ‘giving a talk’, teaching a class’, ‘going to a party’ and so on, and at the other end dressing for work ‘backstage’, where one bears in mind only practical concerns such as comfort, safety (e.g. sun awareness) and practicality (e.g. need to be able to drive a car or climb a ladder).
PETA: Because of the cost? Because of the vanity? Because of the chance one might scrub up better than one’s mother? Because scrubbing up is vanity, and because caring how one looks at all is vanity, and because vanity is shallow, and one must be anything but. Because one must value the mind and eschew the pleasures of the flesh. Because one is a good Catholic child who has been raised to think of the poor in India and the starving in Africa. Because one of you is the pretty one, and the other one is plain. Because one of you is a boy called Peter who has turned out to be a girl called Peta.
DAVID:Perhaps every scene of dressing starts with that question: is this an occasion for putting on a costume (and if so, what play are we in today)? Or am I working backstage? Then, questions arising: what plays do each of us get the chance to perform in? How much control do I have over the repertoire? Are some of us always dressing to perform, never for backstage? And vice versa?
PETA:In this new essay, my mother is “offstage” putting her face on. My father is dressed, he’s in a groovy open necked body shirt in some kind of bri-nylon (what is that?) or rayon or other synthetic fabric that makes his sweat smell. It’s a risky colour – peach or something that speaks to his feminine side – and he wears it over white jeans he’s ironed himself. He’s fussing at the bar with ice and ice buckets and ice tongs, with coasters (from a special collection) and safety matches, also from a collection. He’s lining up wine glasses beside flagons of claret, and pulling the corks from fancy bottles of Mateus rose – this is before the era of what they used to call Chateau Cardboard - the wine bladder in a box - and there are giant ashtrays everywhere because everyone is going to smoke their heads off. The back doors are thrown open onto the back veranda, and the lights are on in the pool. Maybe it’s a pool party, though my mother hates to swim, hates to get her hair wet. No, it’s not a pool party. The lights are on for the ambience, for the David Hockney blue, and the drama of shimmering water under the silhouettes of giant eucalypts in our beautiful patch of bushland. The music is on. It’s Herb Alpert and the Tijuana brass, playing Little Spanish Flea. And my father is nervous as all get out, he really doesn’t want to have this party, it’s all her idea, so he’s been on the turps - his word, not mine, and generic for booze - for a couple of hours now, while trying to keep out of her way.
DAVID:I’m trying to think one more time about this business of dressing up in childhood. Have I told you about my tartan beret, back when we were discussing all things tartan? (I keep feeling I’ve mentioned things already! As if my stock of memories is a tiny drawer-full.) There are photos of me on the great trip when I accompanied my mother on a bus tour around North-West Europe when I was 10 (almost literally a ‘Cook’s Tour’)—her first big trip overseas, and now she says I had to bring you along, I couldn’t think what else to do with you. And there I am wearing the tartan beret, perhaps inspired by the Bay City Rollers. I remember thinking that beret looked pretty damn smart. And maybe I had a vinyl jacket for the European winter, one with a zip (where are those photos now?). Children have a very different fashion sense to adults; that’s what I would say about that tartan beret.
PETA:My ugly hat was a formative mood management device. When I was unable to contain my discomfort any longer, I would put on the orange hat. I would leave the house and go into our front yard where there was a paved pathway and I could stamp about in my comical hat until I managed to dislodge whatever emotion it was that was stuck. It was like trying to shake water out of one’s ears after completing laps of the pool. Somehow my millinery parade was violent enough to loosen my hold on the sorrow, or the rage, or the joy (most often the sorrow or the rage) and the energy would burst out of me in an eruption of pure feeling. Hot tears would flow, or foul words be lobbed into the nearby azalea bushes, one by one, like balls from a cannon.
DAVID:Each year, as winter drew to a close and with it the inevitable season in which even a child could admit the use-value of a warm sock or two and could see that such socks needed capsules to encompass them and stop them getting soaked in puddles, for instance, and even a child could see that you could only get so far by trying to stuff the end of a sock between your big toe and its neighbour to grip onto the nameless vertical prop that defines the nature of a thong (as we call flip-flops in Australia)—every year, at that time, which corresponded with the time the daisies would be flowering and a child’s eyes would be drawn watchfully to the ground ahead, one would notice that the soles on one’s feet had become soft in the off-season, and there was a need for them to be toughened up again, mostly through relentless contact with asphalt and gravel. How satisfying was it a month or two later when that leathery surface of the foot had been reconstructed, and one could fearlessly run on the hot road or the stony back lane with a freedom adults could only dream of. That was when one knew that being a child was infinitely superior to the lot of the parallel species known as adults, and one knew that the adults knew this too, and were furious about it, so much so that they sought their revenge through the unjust application of the many levers of power at their disposal. It was at that age, between, say, 8 and 10, or 9 and 11—I’m only guessing now from this distance—that a child could gain the sense of having attained one’s full maturity, so to speak, in the experience of being a child, of how to be and how the world was within the universe of childhood, which operated under completely different fundamental principles from those governing the lives of adults. And yes, one knew that it was the fate of children to become adults, as it is the fate of caterpillars to become moths, and yet the child, like the caterpillar, could not really feel this to be true, could not jump ahead—and why would they want to?—into this strange realm of preoccupations and behaviours—to a large extent, hang-ups—in which, for instance, going barefoot, running on asphalt, hiding and chasing people up and down back lanes and over fences and under houses, would not be the very things one lived for.
PETA:This morning I found myself trying to explain the process of getting dressed to my dog.
PETA AND DAVID - GAME 3
THE EXCHANGE OF QUESTIONS (ESSAY PROMPTS)
DAVID:In what outfit or attire would you like to be buried/cremated?
PETA:Is there an item of clothing in your possession that you never wear, but cannot bring yourself to part with?
DAVID:Do clothes have moods?
PETA:Do you feel constraints or freedoms in dressing as a man?
DAVID:Would you like to start a list or inventory of your clothes, or any chosen subset of them, one that might include whichever and however many of their qualities and histories as you see fit?
PETA:Do you have a family tartan (or crest?) If yes, please tell me more. If not, please design one.
DAVID:Can you write more about what happens, as you say, 'in outsourcing the styling of my body to others' - what are the pleasures to be found in this, and what are the pleasures lost?
PETA:Do you have particular habits and rituals as you get dressed for the day?
DAVID:'In our household it was enacted via my father’s control of the purse strings, and his imposition of strict forms of data-collection and accountability around all purchases. I would love to write more about this and try to reconstruct the object proper through words...' I would love to hear more this object, and its associations.
PETA:You have mentioned the menswear section of David Jones, the iconic Australian department store , and you have also mentioned the Vietnamese tailor family Phan. Do you have any other allegiances to clothing purveyors or brands? PS I put a far more elegant version of this question up at 7.21am this morning but it seems to have disappeared. If you find it elsewhere do let me know.
DAVID:[you wrote about] “Our glamorous mother”: discuss.
PETA:What do you admire - or look for - in a well-dressed man?
DAVID:Please essay upon an occasion or occasions when your parents entertained, as viewed through the prism of how to dress.
PETA:"The suit was a dissertation on 20th century relations of gender, class and power." Please elaborate the role of a tie within the framework of such a dissertation.
DAVID:What relations do you see between playing games, in any sense you choose, and dressing?
PETA:How, if at all, and when does your partner influence your sense of style, or how you dress?
DAVID:Can you write some more about the relationship between dressing and ceremony?
PETA:Have you ever given someone a garment as a gift? What was it, why did you choose it and was it well received?
DAVID:In your last piece you wrote a little about transitions from one state of being to another. This makes me think about clothing, dressing and their connection with 'movements between' - with thresholds, entrances, exits, preparations, becomings...: discuss.
PETA:Being photographed? Do you like it or not? Are you photogenic? Tricks and tips?
DAVID:Please write about uniforms and wedding dresses. You might entertain the appearance of vestments if they press onto the scene.
PETA:We have not yet mentioned shoes. (Or have we? Our respective devotion to the Camper brand has been shared.) Now please tell me about your relationship with your footwear.
DAVID:The Olympic games: discuss...(sartorial lens, of course)...
PETA:"I refuse all of your attempts to dress me up as this or that!" declares the defiant child. Were you often dressed up, as a child. As what? And by whom?